Our means of travel have changed. Right now, reminiscing is the best way to fly.

Caroline Gardam reads an excerpt from her story, Underfoot, published in Our Inside Voices, AndAlso Books 2020.

Travel has changed. Physical journeys are short. Memory is longer.

These days, when we return to our locked-in sanctuary, before we wash our hands for at least 20 seconds, we remove our shoes at the front door. For safety. For hygiene. These floors have not always been so shoe-free, although I rarely wear shoes at home.

I don’t hate shoes, but I do like to take them off. It is grounding: it’s comfortable. When guests arrived, I was often (unintentionally) barefoot – back when guests used to arrive, that is.

We have much time to wander our homes, barefoot, now.

I walk our Queenslander’s uneven wide pine floorboards: sawn by hand and laid in the 1920s, polished years later by someone else, and darkened over decades to a single malt’s hue. My soles can’t discern the holes left by borers, but can feel cracks between the boards.

My sons used to slide across the floor, scuffing holes in their school socks. I love tiles, but you can’t skate in socks on tiles the way you can on a timber floor. We have tiles in the laundry, downstairs. The edges of a particular size of a tile under a bare foot can maneuver a memory, and all of a sudden, you’re back at your first sleep-over at a friend’s house, in Jindalee in 1982, and the two of you are sneaking down to the spare freezer in the rumpus room at midnight to binge on pilfered icecream. The 20×20 square tiles are smooth and cool.

As autumn takes over, these tiles become colder than timber. My feet feel the change, from downstairs tile to rough back step, hopping back upstairs to clasp the old, polished pine.

All polished floorboards feel like home.

Barefoot, my feet meet these boards, and remember others. Memory presses up underfoot, of squeaking floating faux-timber floors in the little house we lived in near the sea. A smooth surface disrupted by grains of sand. My feet, tip-of-toe first, then heel, methodically tracing a 2am route down hallway, living room U-turn, hallway, nursery, until the baby finally slept. Exhausted, alone in that little shack, hoping the two-year-old wouldn’t wake as well, following the same pathway in a constant arc, singing deranged nursery rhymes. Crying for sleep. The floor click-squeaked at a section outside the bedroom door; my feet learned to step over it.

Outside, our bare feet learned that the grass that grows on sand has sharper edges than a couth suburban couch. That the scrappy lawns of houses in beach towns are often full of prickles. Our feet learned to step delicately, instinctively, to avoid the spiky pods under the casuarinas. When we wore shoes, it was thongs, which were abandoned at the stairs to the dunes. Under my soles, soft sand pushed back in erratic patterns, shifting even if I wasn’t. Impetus becomes easier as you near the water; it always does.

Walking meditations in Buddhism and yoga involve pairing breath with steps. If nobody was watching, I would follow the water’s edge, exhaling as my heel-to-toe descended, wet sand yielding just enough to my weight, matching my inhalation with the alternate foot as it raised. Walking meditations are slow.

I could feel time ebbing through its surface as I walked on my grandmother’s bedroom carpet. Half a life spent stepping through the doorway, around the bed, to the wardrobe – a pathway scored by a thinner nap, which was hard to see in the faded floral pattern, but discernable if you walked off its beaten track. The pile felt thin but soft, like the skin on the back of her hands or the crinkles near her eyes when she laughed.

My grandmother’s kitchen had a laminate floor. Walking on laminate feels clean, but a little sticky. Walking on laminate feels like visiting my grandmother for Sunday roast. Walking on laminate feels like 1982.

I don’t hate shoes, but I do like to take them off.